Tower of Power – or TOP, as they’re known in some corners – has still got it goin’ on. After 52 years in the game, the legendary Oakland soul-funk group continues to churn out new music and tour extensively.
Today the 10-piece band premieres the title track off their forthcoming 27th album, Step Up, on American Songwriter. It’s a freewheeling soul-funk number that sees the group at their grooviest, showcasing Jerry Cortez’s guitar chops and a stunning organ solo by keyboardist Roger Smith. Meanwhile, the band’s famed horn section sounds just as dynamic as ever, punctuating “Step Up” with rhythmic spurts of saxophone and trumpet. But the song is ultimately carried by electric lead and back-up vocals that will make you want to get up and dance.
Step Up follows Tower of Power’s superb 50th anniversary album–2018’s Soul Side of Town–though each of the records’ 14 songs were recorded during the same session.
“Our latest recording was a deep labor of love because we were coming up on 50 years together as a group,” explains TOP founder, tenor saxophonist, and vocalist Emilio Castillo. “One of my old managers told me it was not the time to just throw together 12 songs quickly. He said we needed to make the best CD of our career and the only way to do that was to do the ‘Michael Jackson Method,’ which was to record 25 songs or so and then pick the best 12. That was my primary aim and motivation throughout the whole project. We wound up cutting 28 all-new original songs and the new record company loved all of it so we wound up releasing two CDs: ‘Soul Side Of Town’ and now ‘Step Up.’”
Tower of Power’s lineup has gone through many iterations over the years, but the band is currently rounded out by lead vocalist Marcus Scott, baritone saxophonist Stephen “Doc” Kupka, bassist Marc Van Wageningen, drummer David Garibaldi, lead tenor saxophonist Tom Politzer, trumpeter Adolfo Acosta, and trumpeter Sal Cracchiolo in addition to Cortez, Smith, and Castillo. Van Wageningen replaced longtime TOP bassist Francis ‘Rocco’ Prestia, who is featured on Step Up but no longer tours with the band (TOP’s last lead vocalist, Ray Greene, is also featured on Step Up).
As with previous Tower of Power releases, Step Up sees Castillo and his crew pulling from R&B, jazz, rock, blues, and pop to craft songs that feel intensely alive and expansive. For Castillo, this quality is a natural outcome of his songwriting process.
“Staying relevant as a songwriter isn’t something I think about very much,” says Castillo. “I just write and then endeavor to make the best recording of the song I can and let the chips fall where they may. Fortunately for me, our songs have turned out to have a timeless quality.”
When asked about his band’s staying power, Castillo was quick to credit his collaborators–both earthly and divine.
“As far as longevity goes,” says Castillo, “I’ve been blessed to work with some very wonderful and talented people. I make the music exactly as I want it to be, [which] makes it really easy to go to work on a daily basis. And then before I knew it I was in my 52nd year. I give God all the credit!”
Step Up is out March 20 via Artistry Music under Mack Avenue Records.
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